Living in Spain and in Hungary

By Irina Czakó

Firstly I was going to make one interview with my friend from New-Zealand, who has been living in Spain for one and a half years. But than I realized that Spain and my country Hungary have several similar current issues. That’s why I decided to ask my Hungarian classmate on the situation of home as well. My interviewees both are young, dynamic, working at international companies and know other cultures and people from other countries. I was wondering what they would answer to the same questions. We have had a lot of discussions about the countries we live in, which would be hard to summarize staying within the word limit. In spite of this I would like to publish my second additional interview as well.


What is the biggest or the most surprising cultural difference for you in Spain? Is there any habit or custom here that you are not yet used to?

The two most significant differences would be

 (1) The attitude – things are taken slowly; regulations are sometimes bendable, whereas others are set in concrete; layers of bureaucracy etc – you need to not be a stressful person to deal with Spain sometimes! I think I am used to this now: I think this affects foreigners working for Spanish companies more.

 (2) Lack of ‘personal space’ – People always stand very close to you in Spain, whether they are talking to you, or when standing in a queue. I am not used to this yet. If I have to pick only one cultural different, this is the one, as it is one I wasn’t prepared for in the least.

Rachel is from New Zealand. She is a physicist and

has been working in Spain for one and a half years.

Spain’s economy is in big trouble. It is suffering from a high level of national debt, a recession and unemployment. Have you noticed any signs of the crisis in everyday life?

Broadly, there are three ‘signs’: (1) closing of businesses and vacant office and shop space, (2) unemployment (3) unrest

 (1) This is frequent in Madrid and in the small village in which I lived at first. On Paseo de la Florida there are many empty shop spaces for rent. The convenience store recently closed. The drugeria/perfumeria has signs saying (I think – check this) ‘liquidacion por cierre de negocios’. A related topic is the bankruptcy of construction companies creating the huge half-finished ‘ghost towns’ that are prevalent near my work. This does not affect anyone I know personally, but people are often saying that they know peopl who still owe money to the bank for these houses that were never built.

 (2) The biggest sign of this is the number of beggars on the street. When I arrived in Madrid very few people were begging on the trains in the metro – now I see on most trips. There were always a few musicians/buskers in the metro trains – these have increased significantly also.

 (3) the Huelga general is the most obvious sign.  The other obvious sign was the M-15 movement which occupied Sol (and there were further protests this weekend). While neither involved anyone I know, both were obvious in everyday life from the disruptions they brought (even though they were minor). As my work is an international organisation, in general these issues do not affect the employees. The fact that they are not hiring very many new staff here is caused by general austerity across Europe.

Another factor, which I have heard of anecdotally from friends, but for which I arrived too late to really appreciate, is the change in the style of life of people of Madrid – apparently it was common for all the bars and restaurants to be full and lively every day of the week, but now this is only really seen in the historical centre. Since I live quite close to the centre, places still seem quite busy on weeknights, so I can’t really comment on whether this observation is accurate.

The level of the unemployment in Spain is the highest in the European Union. Amongst young people -like you are- this ratio can reach the fifty percent. According to your and your friends experiences is it difficult to find a job for youth nowadays?

I do not know any Spanish people who are unemployed and cannot find work. A couple cannot find permanent jobs. However, my experience of this is quite limited because of who I socialise with, broadly 3 groups:

(1) Work colleagues: international organisation therefore unaffected – and mostly internationals who will return to their home country at the end of their fixed-term contracts.

 (2) Other foreigners in Madrid for specific work and study opportunities: English teachers and students (PhD and Erasmus), who in general do not plan to stay in Madrid at the end of their study or contract.

(3) A group of mixed internationals, English and Spanish speaking young people, mixture of students and young professionals: Of this group, I do know some people who have actively searched for work in Spain, and found it fairly easily – engineering and telecommunications-type roles. This is possibly because they are fluent in Spanish and English, which I hear is increasingly a priority. Accordingly, English teachers are in very high demand, making it arguably easier for English-speaking foreigners to find work in Madrid than the Spanish – I know many British young people who have just landed in Madrid and had work within a month. I only really have 2 Spanish friends – both are not currently unemployed, but have both told me about their urgent need to improve their language skills for their future employability.

How can you describe Spanish people?

Lively, but relaxed about living their lives!

Spanish people are often considered lazy and less productive than their counter partners in other European Union countries. You have Spanish colleagues at your workplace, as well; according to your opinion is this stereotype true or not?

I think this is not correct, I find that all the ‘latin’ type countries (Spain, France, Italy) have a fairly similar philosophy – to take time to live as well as work, which is different to, say, America, where by taking a job it is often assumed that your work becomes your life. Hence, people here take time to go to the canteen to have lunch together, instead of sitting at their desk. Does this decrease productivity? Personally, I don’t think it does, though I don’t have any figures to back this up. Their philosophy is that you need to take these breaks to be able to work optimally after lunch. I caution that, though there are Spanish workers at my institute, this is foremost an international organisation, with the bulk of its employees being French and German (based on the contributions from different countries). There is no siesta.

Rajoy’s central-right Popular Party won the parliamentary election in November. Have you seen any changes after the elections?

Honestly, I haven’t seen any changes. Of course, Rajoy has made some controversial decisions, which led to the Huelga general in March, but there was also controversial legislation and a large general strike under Zapatero (in October 2010 I think). There may be a growing feeling of discontent against Rajoy (at least amongst the few discussions I’ve had with Spanish people).

My second interview is the following.

Dóra Dunai lives in Hungary. She has a Master’s Degree in Organization and Leadership and works at a multinational company as compliance specialist.

Nowadays is not too easy to find a job for the recent graduates. How do you see the opportunities of the young people in Hungary?

I think in Hungary the market is full, so finding a position as a fresh graduate is quite tough. I was lucky, I entered the company via internship 2 years ago, so when I graduated I transferred from trainee to full-time employee. From what I see people with strong language skills have much better chances.

Hungary needs to improve its economic governance, which struggles as the growth slows and investors retreat. Have you experienced the recession or the austerity measurements in your everyday life?

Yes, absolutely. Goods and services are getting more and more expensive, this is true for all kind of goods for ex. bread, utility costs, … there’s a longer queue in the banks, less people in stores and more Hungarian people are vacationing within the country.

Spanish economy is also suffering from similar problems. You have been in Spain recently. Have you noticed any signs of the crisis?

Not really. Traffic is great, vehicles are jammed, also the streets, cars are new, stores are full of people, from what I saw, it’s not in crisis. However I did find Spain surprisingly expensive.

According to your opinion has the Hungarian economy similar pattern like the Spanish?

I don’t really have a knowledge to tell. For now I think we don’t have the same root causes but we’re facing the same challenges and problems. One similar point in our economy is the big dept our countries have to deal with.

We often hear it that Hungarians work less and are not so productive than people in Western countries. Do you agree with this?

No, in our firm we work way too much. We’re in early, we slightly have lunch break, and we finish late then continue it at home. At least at the business world. In the public sector on the other hand I can imagine it’s true.

How can you describe Hungarian people?

Pride, but shameful, hard workers but usually unmotivated, whining, but smart and most importantly survivors.

Two years ago the right-wing party Fidesz won the election and two-thirds majority in the parliament, which is unique in the history of European elections. Have you seen any remarkable changes in the past two years?

To be honest, not really. We have a lot of new laws – but his has been the case for as long as I remember, and I’m not fully following the politics, so I can’t really answer besides ‘not really’.


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